Diabetes is often referred to as a 'hidden' disease. When Elliott on the TV show Scrubs once told Type 2 diabetic character Turk, "If you want sympathy get a disease people can see', I couldn't help but laugh. In many ways, the fact our condition is mostly hidden, is a benefit. I don't have to worry that an interviewer's prejudices mean the wheels on my chair make them put that 'cross' next to my name. I am never teased or bullied (other than my family, which I am kinda fond of). I don't stand out. I am judged on my abilities, not my 'disabilities'.
But the down side of that is that people with diabetes can feel very alone. I read an article while at University once talking about how people with hidden conditions find it hard to identify an in-group the same way a wheelchair user might. During times when diabetics find managing their condition hard, it is that in-group that helps you through. It's your fellow diabetics, your friends, your family. Even the nurses at my GP surgery, who I laugh and joke with, are part of my diabetes in-group.
Diabetic burn-out, a well-recognised time of 'I need a rest' that diabetics can go through, usually polarised by people not having an in-group for support, hit me around a year ago. The posts on the blog began to become more sparse (a sure-fire sign that my thoughts are elsewhere) and blood testing and carb-counting had dwindled to embarassing levels. When my DSN (Diabetes Specialist Nurse) asked me why I had gone three days without testing, I lied and told her I had lost my machine and was using a spare. I hate liars.
During that time, I stumbled upon the photo above,which was being used in an artistic education programme by artist Dana Heffern, whose aim is to educate non-diabetics. This photo had a profound effect on me. At the time I was in the depths of burn out, struggling with what diabetes was doing to me both every day and over my life. I was tired of the constant effort and dedication demanded of me, which only resulted in average health. I was angry.
When I saw this photo I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I could think of only one singular word to describe it; Mutilated. Seeing the holes in the fingerprint, which when magnified felt like bomb craters, fuelled my very anger. Your finger print is part of your identity, so much so that even identical twins do not have the same prints. It is part of who you are. It is yours. This striking image was showing me what diabetes does to people; it mutilates them.
That image haunted me for several months and even now calls out to me when I see the pock-marks in my own fingerprint. But with the ending of the burn-out phase came a new lease of life for diabetes. I threw myself back into volunteering for events, attending groups and bloggers forums and picking myself up off the floor with a new determination to wipe that very floor with my condition.
Now, when I look at that image I know that diabetes has changed me. Beyond recognition, probably. But not for the worse in fact I feel it has done quite the opposite. Those marks on my fingers are a sign of the in-group I belong to, one which happens to be about 3 million strong in this country alone. They plot my journey one crater at a time, and are my proof that diabetes hasn't taken me prisoner just yet. They are my evidence that I will live a long, healthy, happy life because I am trying to. They are evidence of my care for myself. They are also unlike any other person in the world. That makes them as much part of my fingerprint as the very print itself.
I may have a 'hidden' condition but I have chosen to wear my condition for all to see. I have chosen to find my in-group by wearing an insulin pump and shouting about it.
You, are my in-group, and my fingerprint is both damaged, and as perfect, as this one.